Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Pearl S Buck: Forgotten Diamond
The Nobel Prize for Literature is generally recognized as the most prestigious of literary awards; it recognizes life-time achievement on a global scale. Although a rough dozen American authors have won this award, only two of them have been women: Toni Morrison and , decades before her, Pearl S Buck.
Now, we do no service to any artist in any genre by categorizing their work with a one word label, and Buck was aware of this when she wrote three novels set in America; in the introduction to a volume that collects these novels together (John Day, 1958), Buck discusses both why she wrote the work with American settings, and why she used the alternative name of John Sedges—fully acknowledging her audiences' expectation of her as being "the old self, the Asian self”. Yet, Buck’s three American novels are brilliant, showing a profound understanding of American culture, of American character, that is illuminating despite the sixty odd years that have passed since Buck’s eye was cast upon us, thus.
Buck’s writing in and of itself has a subtle and powerful beauty that may seem as foreign to modern readers as her works with other settings—for modern literature has taken a terse superficiality that reminds one of franchise food—a poor, nutritionally vapid imitation of a truly fine experience. In Voices In The House, the New England setting, the upper class characters are so precisely yet compassionately drawn, that readers who have never experienced this aspect of American culture will see the veil lifted. At one point, the rising action of the plot is further complicated by the arrival of a dog, “a huge black dog of an unknown breed” who is “immense” and who “eats two pounds of meat at a meal” (377). The dog serves the novel’s story as a symbol of violence that becomes ever more difficult to control, and a counterpoint to the studied, generations-bred demeanor of the central characters. Buck clues us to this counter-point when:
A moment later the dog felt itself pushed through the door into the cold and the door was locked upon him. It flung its body against the door, bellowing, and this was the noise that William now heard, the uproar, the howls of a wild animal, and then he heard the dreadful sound of clawing upon the oaken front door, the pride of the house, the door so old that tradition said it had come from a massive oak on the mountain side, already hundreds of years old when the Winston family settled here in Vermont (385).
Buck’s use of the alliterative name for her primary character, the consonant pattern of l to paint the character of the dog in contrast to the assonant o that gives the door—an object—a value to the characters perceivable to the reader, and a sense of how the setting of the family home as an established entity –these all paint for the reader a sense of culture that is probably still as entrenched in American culture as it was a hundred years ago when the novel was set.
Two of the three “John Sedges” novels are set in the northeastern terrain of our country, and the sense of an isolated and hierarchical culture is clear yet compassionately, sensitively drawn. This is Buck’s brilliance, for the novels she had set in China, in Korea, in India are also sensitive to the point of view of characters in a clearly specific setting, as well as the cultural expectations and traditions within which the characters live.
Buck’s novel The Townsman is primarily set in Kansas, although the characters emigrate there from England at a time when Kansas was becoming settled. Buck’s detailed vision of sod houses, of the disparity between character personality types, of the eventual growth of the area, are a precise vision of the prosaic details of this existence that are often glossed over by American history itself.
It becomes ironic that Buck herself is passed over by so many of those who read: her work is so sensitively drawn that anyone reading The Living Reed, set in Korea, will have a far more profound understanding of Korean culture than any discussions provided by modern journalistic media. Our modern treasure, Ha Jin, a Chinese émigré, in his Nankin Requiem, paints the horrors of the Japanese invasion, but Buck was ahead of him by a few decades in Dragon Seed. It may be that Buck is read by some writers, but being the brilliant gem of American literature that is only seen by a few makes her work similar to that of a masterful painting held in a private collection, admired by a few selected guests. Buck ought to be required reading, and any person who prides themselves on their intellect ought to be familiar with her work in canon.
Buck is an American treasure whose work deserves a readership in each any every decade of our culture.
You can find some of Buck's work on Amazon.
100 Books You Must Read - #38 - The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Thursday, January 24, 2013
''I suppose I could start by saying I first learned to sing at the age of 3 singing in front of old jukeboxes while people put their money in to hear the hits of the day. So I developed an interest in music at a young age. When I was 5 years old, I recall how my brother, a keen old vinyl record collector, came home one day with an EP and told me it was a guy called 'Donovan'. I didn't know who this mysterious Donovan was but instantly became a fan of his music when he put the EP on the turntable. Universal Soldier was the first track I remember hearing and I just knew this guy had something and was on a different track from the rest of the singer/songwriters I had heard. His guitar style...very unique voice.. and the ability to bond with a younger listener like me and older listeners like my brother, who had also taken up guitar himself, and surprisingly my parents liked him too. They were trademarks of this guy's ability to communicate with people of all ages.
Throughout the years ever since, I have always admired Donovan's songs, and the effortless way he can conjure up a mood or atmosphere just by playing his guitar and singing. He can transport you to a another beautiful time and place when listening to his albums. Particularly my 2 favourites, the Celtic/Folk/pop of Fairytale, with excellent other-wordly beautiful haunting tracks like Jersey Thursday and Summer Day Reflection Song. Then the multi-influenced Sunshine Superman album, which was, to be fair, many years ahead of it's time.
I have three brothers, and my eldest brother became a keen folk/ bluegrass musician around the time I first heard Donovan. I suppose in many ways, I could relate to Donovan that much easier because of the familiar Celtic strains in the music. I began to teach myself the guitar and learned the chords and claw-hammer style to his songs by listening intently to the records and CDs later.
I started writing songs when I was about 11. A lot were influenced by Donovan and some by the 60s artists like The Beatles, Monkees and Jimi Hendrix. To me, music of today has the legacy of the 60s to thank for all it's many different genres and styles.
Insight is a fascinating thing, and as a songwriter I used this gift to great effect when I put together my album Dedications last year.
I had already written many songs and wanted to make an album. I then had the offer to join Tunecore, who were offering the chance to make a download album for a few dollars and distribute it out to the masses via Amazon, Itunes, Zunes, Spotify and a few others.
I took up this exciting offer and wondered what I should call the album. It wasn't till then, I made an extraordinary discovery about my writing. Almost all the songs I had written in the 10 years since I had been recording at home, were all sort of salute songs. In other words, I wrote biographical songs about people I admired in my life. They weren't just luminaries, or household names, but people I had grown up with or my family. So, the answer on what to call the album was literally right in front of my eyes. So I decided on the name DEDICATIONS as that's what it was all about. All the tracks and instruments were written, produced, arranged and performed by yours truly also. An album of dedications to people I knew or stars I had always admired in the music business. The Jimmy Christian Blue tag was just an eye-catching name to call myself and to possibly help sell my music better, although I realized Jimmy Stanley isn't all that bad after all, and the Jimmy CB was just for that one album. I have since reverted to my trusty original name.
The song Donovan Dreams is also featured on the new album DEDICATIONS. It's a biographical song about Donovan, as you would expect, and it's influenced quite heavily by the great man's style of vibrato singing and guitar-playing. It features a 12-string acoustic, original Hofner Beatles bass, and light percussion. I find that you need to find at least a few of the key elements to any performer's sound if you are going to write and produce a song about them. That was the task I set myself for DEDICATIONS. So all the tracks you hear are influenced in some way by the artists concerned and by the music that inspired them. When writing about people I grew up with, the influences are a bit more across the board from ELO to The Beach Boys, to Queen, depending on the subject's favorite artists. I like to diversify with my music as much as I can. It keeps me on my toes musically.
Like many other Donovan fans, I felt that his indoctrination into the Rock n' Roll hall of fame was long, long overdue. I was thrilled when I heard the news around January 2011. So that was the moment of inspiration for the song Donovan Dreams.
Jimmy's Dedication's album is available digitally on Amazon.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Jerry Wennstrom PO 522 Clinton, Whidbey Island, WA 98236 www.handsofalchemy.com In 1979 Jerry Wennstrom was a rising star in the New York art world when he let go of his identity as an artist by intentionally destroying his large body of art and giving away his possessions. With this leap of faith Jerry embarked on a decade of wandering, listening, seeking, and relying on intuition and unconditional trust to guide and provide for him. His book, The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey of Transformation, is a self-portrait of the life of a man guided by a desire to connect to the divine, creative spirit. Jerry is the subject of two Parabola and Sentient Publications documentary videos, In the Hands of Alchemy and Studio Dialogue. The tower that Jerry built on his Whidbey Island property, along with his life's story, are featured in the book, Holy Personal by Laura Chester. Jerry travels nationally teaching, lecturing, and presetting the films. He also writes a monthly column for Inferential Focus, a New York City think tank and consulting firm. Web site - www.handsofalchemy.com
zoetrope, installed inside of a 1950's Emerson TV, revolve around a still Buddha figure in the center. Visually held in placed by a pair of strobe lights, the images give the appearance of a single animated face, changing from life to death to life again.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Knife Edge & Absinthe
The Tango Poems
by Lyn Lifshin
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Thursday, January 10, 2013
A strong arts community requires both arts and community, and local arts communities will not find vitality without vitality of community overall. In dense population centers, a sense of community tends to be suppressed by the glut of bodies, of buildings; to live rural—or semi-rural—such as in Central Florida, where whole counties of formerly agrarian character have been subsumed by generic and gated communities, a sense of community involves a profound life choice, s mindful way of being. One advantage of this life choice the ability to buy food from the people who grow it; one such person is Dr. Ed Anderson, who grows the most delicious citrus to be found anywhere. Every winter, Ed Anderson has a small sign at the gate to his grove, and folks stop in to buy a bursting full bag of navel oranges or red grapefruit for a mere five dollars. Of this grove, Ed Anderson says, “ The grove was in existence when my wife’s people bought the property in 1945. I think from the old story that it was a big, big grove.” Suddenly, awareness unfolds: to live somewhere is to exist as part of a community, and in doing so, one can no longer remain blind to that community’s history.
In the case of citrus groves, Ed Anderson is a wealth of local lore; about his own grove, he says:
“ All I can say is that it was part of groves that went to Eustice [Florida} and went back up to Belleview. Back in the 1970s, they were big up in Orange Lake, but they had freezes and mishaps, so there’s not much going on. We had a freeze in ’83, another in ’84 and a killer in ’85. This grove and all the others froze all the way to Highway 50. I was told to bulldoze, but I cut ‘em off and allowed the shoots to come up, and I budded ‘em off when they were two years old. It took five or six years before it produced anything. Trees gotta grow. I decided not to spend on spray. I feel that the oranges are not as pretty, but everybody tells me they are the best oranges they ever had.”
The area where Ed Anderson sells his fruit is sheltered by an enormous, regal live oak tree—one too rarely seen anymore. Of the tree, Doc says that someone came from the University of Florida and dated the tree’s age to about 350 years. Ed Anderson seems comfortable with the folks who come, who buy oranges, who chat awhile. It turns out that Ed Anderson, now a retired dentist, also served in his community as a member of the school board at a tempestuous time:
“ The day we went in to raise your right hand followed up with the teacher’s strike that started right then .I was always on the teacher’s side and knew they weren’t adequately paid. In those days, it was hard to look a teacher in the eye and hand ‘em their paycheck…it was embarrassing what they were paid.” The Florida teacher’s strike of the late 1960s is an erased bit of local, as well as national history; Florida subsequently will now fire any striking teacher. Ed’s view of that time also includes the civil rights struggles: “The main thing we accomplished is that we agreed to go along with the federal demand to integrate the schools. We were the second county in the state to do it, and it became the end of my political career.”
Ed’s awareness of community, of its history, is tinged with a certain sorrow : “ Marion County could have been one of the highlights of the state, but I think development has taken over.” He reflects for a moment, and then says , “Basically, I think that we should develop in this county access for all citizens rather than just certain power structures. The power structures are selfish; they want to make money and develop the state and not wisely, not wisely.” While Ed Anderson speaks of his fifty year experience in this local community, it is likely that his words would have resonance in any formerly rural area.
Saying “the grove was a community organization”, Ed Anderson reflects on corporate growers: “They spend a lot of time and money spraying so they [the oranges] will be pretty when they come off the tree. A pretty orange is not an opening to the best orange.” Ed Anderson’s oranges are “sold right off my own property”, and he well remembers “orange groves all over the place”. Ed speaks to the year round work required, and says “people come in here with a smile”. While a few bags of oranges might not revolutionize the lifestyle of an individual, the choice to purchase directly from the grower initiates a mindfulness that leads to not only better individual health, but better economic health in one’s own community. Ed’s oranges are not sprayed with substances banned in this country a generation ago—as is the case for many imported produce species. Additionally, to taste Ed’s oranges—to taste produce that’s actually grown and ripe when picked is an exquisite experience, one Ed Anderson, himself, acknowledges: “The fruit speaks for itself. People come in here because of the goodness of the fruit.” Yes, a sweet truth most certainly.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Solving the Communion Enigma: What is to Come
New York, NY
It has been a quarter of a century since I published Communion and the subsequent tow follow-on books, Transformation and Breakthrough. These books described a series of experiences that I had between 1985 and 1994, conventionally known as “close encounters of the third kind” or “alien abduction.”
But are they what they seem?
After the last of these books was published, the experiences continued for a number of years, and left me with discoveries that take matters far beyond the conventional assumptions.
In 1986, novelist Whitely Strieber knocked America off her feet by releasing a book titled Communion, which pretty much addressed a problem he was having with the abduction experience. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the abduction experience, which is a major part of contemporary UFO literature, well then, I have to consider you somewhat ill-informed.
In 1986, Strieber’s book Communion rocked the literary world. I mean, you really have to understand that here is a novelist of such books as Wolven and The Hunger, who all of a sudden releases a book about alien abduction, not as fiction, but as fact. In fact, on the dust jacket, it states “this is a true story”.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I ate Communion up. It was simply a nicely written book, and one that made me believe in the possibility of alien abductions. Since the time of that first publication, Strieber has written five other books addressing the subject. This latest book Solving the Communion Enigma: What is to Come, in my opinion, is absolutely the weakest of the lot.
There is nothing new in this book, nothing that you have not encountered before in abduction literature. It is just Whitely going on and on and on about the alien gardener. About visitations that you have heard so many times before. I’m sorry, but there come a time when you need a new gig. I really yearn for Whitley to return to writing fiction. This is just so much bullshit.
You know, recently, I made a trip to Roswell, New Mexico, and you couldn’t even bring up Whitely Strieber’s name to any learned ufoligist without being snickered at. And this is why. This latest book simply doesn’t deliver, and I cannot recommend it. But I will highly recommend Communion.
It’s just that someone has to tell Whitely enough is enough, already. Stop taking us to space, and take us to your brilliant stories, Whitley. We enjoyed the ride.